Sonicware throws a $199 synth/groovebox curveball with the Liven XFM

GEAR 2021: You may know Sonicware for its OP-1-esque ELZ_1 and Liven 8bit Warps synths, and with the Liven XFM, it’s offering an intriguing new multitrack FM synthesizer and groovebox.

This offers two approaches to FM sound design. If you want to keep things simple, there’s the “intuitive and quick” X-Lab engine, which lets you merge two FM sounds by blending their envelopes, modulation routing and feedback. Sonicware is calling this Fusion FM.

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Those who want to dive deeper can access the Edit mode and get to grips with the 4-operator XFM engine, with 15 knobs and 30 buttons promising easy access to all parameters. Put simply, the idea is to make FM synthesis more accessible and remove the menu diving - something a lot of manufacturers are trying to do right now. As well as the knobs and buttons, you also get a 27-note keyboard.

On the groovebox side, there’s a 4-track step sequencer so that you can create complete productions with drums, bass, lead and other sounds (each trach has its own LFO). You can have up to 64 steps per pattern and save up to 128 patterns, while the parameter lock feature enables you to record knob changes into your patterns.

There are performance features, too. The self-explanatory Random and Stutter effects enable you to mess with your sequences in real-time, and patterns can be chained together to create longer songs. As well as offering step input, you can also record ‘live’, adding more notes as the sequencer is playing.

The filter section, meanwhile, offers high-, low- and band-pass options, and you get an LFO and envelope for modulating the cutoff frequency. Effects include Chorus, Flanger, Send Delay, Insert Delay, Bit Crusher, Reverb, Distortion, LPF, HPF and Isolator.

As well as operating in six-note polyphonic mode, Liven XFM can also operate in Mono/Legato mode - with adjustable glide time - or an arpeggiator mode that offers 12 playing patterns.

Liven XFM sounds like it could be a lot of fun, and at just $199, it has the potential to upset the entry-level FM applecart. It’s cheaper than Elektron’s Model:Cycles, but more expensive - and seemingly more feature-packed - than Korg’s Volca FM. It can be battery-powered and has a built-in speaker, while connectivity includes audio, MIDI and sync I/O.

The first round of pre-orders is currently being taken, and you can find out more on the Sonicware website.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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